By Jennifer Wohlleb
You couldn’t blame some school board members if they were thinking that no one told them there would be math at KSBA’s Winter Symposium. But it was good math, demonstrating how $100 in technology spending in their districts can turn into more than $300.
Damon Jackey, a school board member from Nelson County and a Kentucky Education Technology Systems (KETS) engineer with the state department of education, led a workshop session on technology issues that school board members should know about. One of those topics was the federal E-Rate program.
“We at KDE spend $100 on Internet that comes into your district,” he said, keeping the numbers simple as an example. “We get roughly $70 of that back through the E-Rate program. So what we do with that is that we turn around and give that as additional offers down to the school districts. You have to match that $70. So now that $100 we spent turned into another $70 we give to you, plus another $70 that you match. We’re up to $240 possibly, that is being spent on students and technology and instructional things for them.”
E-Rate funds come from the money collected through the Universal Service Fund charge on people’s phone bills.
“At the school district level and from a budgeting standpoint and a planning standpoint, you take that $140 (less the original amount KDE provided) and you also through the E-Rate program apply for, say, more wireless access points, and let’s say you get about 70 percent back as well … that comes to about $98. So, the $100, plus the $140, which becomes $240, plus another $98, now we’re pushing up into that $350 range.”
That explanation was part of a discussion of why boards should consider plowing those funds into technology spending instead of simply adding it to the district’s general fund or using it to pay for personnel.
Gary Grant, executive director of the Kentucky Society for Technology in Education and a co-presenter, said federal funds can be tricky in that area.
“You need to be careful when federal funds come in, because what comes in today is not guaranteed to come in tomorrow,” he said. If districts use that money for salary and it disappears, “they have to make a decision about that person, if that spot is important enough to continue paying for it out of your own funds. So be careful when funds come in, that you know you can sustain it when those funds roll out.”
Grant and Jackey also encouraged school board members to think beyond just buying technology or providing infrastructure for it.
“If we also don’t change the expectations of what it will look like to use the technology, it’s all for naught. It’s just a bunch of stuff that we spent money on,” Jackey said. “We need to be asking as board members, what are we trying to do, instructionally within our district? Let’s don’t buy and then figure out what we’re going to do with it. Let’s figure out what we need to do and then figure out which device meets it.”
In the future, districts may not have to worry as much about which devices to buy, since Bring Your Own Device programs are slowly winning out over one-to-one programs where districts provide the technology.
“We have done two symposiums on one-to-one and BYOD, in partnership with the University of Kentucky the past two years,” Grant said. “We’re finding nationwide … and even internationally, there’s sort of a battle going on, one-to-one, BYOD, which is going to win?
“BYOD is starting to come out ahead for a couple of reasons. Kids have their own devices, even the lower-income kids have smartphones – 72 percent was the latest number. But BYOD is something you don’t have to sustain as a district; the students are doing that. But you have to allow for those that forgot their “pencil” that day, that device, or it broke, or the battery is not working.”
He said having different kinds of devices in the classroom – tablets, smartphones, laptops –is a little harder on the teacher.
“But as a teacher, what we need to do is make our lesson plan global,” Grant said. “Make our lesson plan, I want the student to learn this. We don’t have to spoon feed them. The information is there, let them get to it.”
Student Technology Leadership Program
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Gary Grant, executive director of the Kentucky Society for Technology in Education, encouraged school board leaders to keep their Student Technology Leadership Programs operating. Not only are they unique to Kentucky, he said, but they also are providing students with a leg up in getting to college and earning high-level jobs. One STLP student is now an assistant to the CEO of Google.
“He got that job because of STLP engineering,” Grant said. “And Georgia Tech (University) understands these students are the tops in the country. They will accept you immediately if your grades are high enough.”
Grant said only Kentucky students are invited to the International Society for Technology in Education’s conference to provide tech support. The conference has more than 22,000s attendee and 1,000 vendors.
“You should be pushing STLP in your schools,” he said. “A lot of times, schools drop STLP because they don’t have a coordinator … it is an awesome, awesome program.”